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PRIME MERIDIAN CONFERENCE
Prime Meridian Conference
Recommendations suggested by Mr. Sandford Flemings with
The Act of Congress, by the authority of which delegates from
the Governments of all nations ha^7e been summoned by the President
of the United States, defines the main purpose of the Conference,
as follows: —
"To fix on, and recommend for universal adoption, a common
" Prime Meridian, to be used in the reckoning of longitude and in
" the regulation of time throughout the world."
In order to facilitate the examination of the several subjects
included in the general question, I bog leave to suggest that they be
considered under the following hea^is, viz :—
1. The regulation of time.
2. The reckoning of longitude.
3. The adoption of a Prime Meridian.
Under these separate heads I venture to submit a series of recom-
mendations, to which the attention of the Conference is respectfully
1.— TUB KEGULATION OP TIME.
1. That a system of universal time be established, with the viexc of
facilitating synchronous scientific observations, for chronological reckon-
ings, for the purposes of trade and commerce by sea and land and for all
such uses to which it is applicable.
2. That the system be established for the commcm observance of all
peoples, and of such a character that it may be adopted by each separate
community, as may be found expedimt.
3. That the system be based on the principle that for all terrestrial
time reckonings there be one recognized unit of measurement only, and that
all measured intervals of time be synchronous or directly related to the
one unit meat tire.
4. That the unit measure be the period occupied by the diurnal
revolution of the earth defined by the mean solar passage at the meridian
to be established as a time zero.
5 That the zero meridian for time reckoning be identical with the
zero of terrestrial longitudes to be established and known as the Prime
6. That the unit measure defined as above be held to be a day
absolute and designated a Cosmic Duy.
1. That such Cosmic Day be held as a chronological date, changing
with the mean solar passage at the Prime Meridian.
8. That all divisions and multiples of the Cosmic Day be knoum as
9. That the Cosmic Day be divided into hours, numbered in a single
series, one to twenty fovr (1 to 24). Mte.-As an alternative means of
distinguishing ihe cosmic hours from the hours in local reckonings, they
may be denoted by the Ittlers of the alphabet, which, omitting land F,
are twenty-four in mmber,
10. That the hours of the Cosmic Day be sub-divided, as ordinary
hours, into minutes and seconds.
11. That, until Comic Time be admitted as the recognized mwns of
reckoning in the ordinary affairs of life, it is advisable to assimilate the
system to present usages and to provide for the easy translation of local
reckonings into Cosmic Time, and vice versa.
12. That all local reckonings be based on a knoum interval in advance
or behind Cosmic Time.
13. That the surface of the globe be divided by twenty four equidistant
hour meridians, corresponding with the hours of the Cosmic Day.
14. That, as far as practicable, the several hour meridians be taken
according to the longitude of the locality, to regulate heal reckonings.
16. That, in aU cases where an hour meridian is adopted as the
standard for regulating local reckonings, the civil day shall be held to
ccmmence twelve hours before and end twelve hours after the mean solar
passage of such hour meridian*
16. That the civil day, based on the, twelve Jwur meridian (180° from
the Prime Meridian), shall coincide and be one with the Cosmic Day,
17. That the system of Cosmic Time being accepted, it is advisable that
it be acted upon by all civilized nations with as little delay as possible,
The determination of a Prime Meridian, common to all nations,
will admit of the establishment of a system of computing time
satiafafitory equally to our reason and our necessities.
At present we are without such a system. The mode of notation
followed by oommon usage for time immemorial, whatever its ap-
plicability to limited ai'eas, when extended to a vast continent, with
a network of lines of railway and telegraph, has led to confusion
and created many difficulties. Further, it is insufficient for the
purposes of scientific investigation, so marked a feature of modern
Taking the globe as a whole, it is not now possii aeoisely to
define when a year or a month or a week begins. There is no such
interval of time as the universally defined ' everywhere in-
variable. By our accepted definiti a day is local j it is limited to
a single meridian. At some point i ^he earth's surface one day
is alwayH at ita commeoooment and anothor always ending. Thus
while the earth makes one diurnal revolution, we have continually
many days in different stages of progress on our planet.
Necosharily the hours and minutoH partake uf thin normal irregu-
larity. Clocks, the most perfect in mechanism, disagree if they
differ in longitude. Indeed, if clocks are set to true time, as it is
now designated, thoy must, an a theory, vary not only in the same
state and county, but to some extent in the same city.
As we contemplate the general advance in knowledge, wo cannot
but feel surprised that these ambiguities and anomalies should be
found, especially as thoy have been so long known and folt. In the
early conditions of the human race, when existence v»a8 free from
the complications which civilisation has led to; in the days when
tribes followed pastoral pursuits and each community was isolated
from the other; when commerce was confined to few cities, and
intercommunicatieii between distant countries rare and diflicult ;
In those days there was no requirement for a common system of
uniform time. No inconvenience was felt in each locality having
itfi own separate and distinct reckoniiig. But the conditionn under
which we live are no longer the same. The application of science
to the means of locomotion and to the instantaneous trunsmission of
thought and speech have gradually contracted space and annihilated
distance. The whole world is drawn into immediate neighbourhood
and near relationship, and we have now become sensible to incon-
veniences and to many disturbing influences in our reckoning of
time utterly unknown and even unthought of a few generations
back. It is also quite manifest that as civilization advances such
evils must greatly increase rather than be lessened, and that the
true remedy lies in changing our traditional usages in respect to
the notation of days and hours, whatever shock it may give to old
customs and the ]aejudices engendered by thom.
In countries of limited extent, the diflS^'ulty is easily grappled
with. By general understanding, an arrangement affecting the
particular community may be observed and the false principles
which have led to the difforcrcc3 and disagreements can be set
aside. In Great Britain the time of the Observatory at Greenwich
is adopted for general ase. But thin involves a departure fVom the
principles by which time is locally determined, and hence, if the
principle be not wrong, every clock in the United Kingdon, excepi.
those on a lino due north and south from Greenwich, must of neces-
sity be in error.
On the continent of North America, efforts have recently been
made to adjust the difficulty. The stopw taken have been, in a high
degree succeHsful in providing a remedy for the disturbing influen-
ces referred to and, at the same time, they are in harmony with
principles the soundnosn of which is indisputable.
When wo examine into time in the abstract, the conviction is
forced upon us that it bears no resemblance to any one matter or
essence which comes before our senses ; it is immaterial, without
form, without substance, without spintual essence. It is neither
solid, liquid nor gjiKOOUs. Yet it is capable of moasuroinont with
the closest precision. eless, it may be doubted if anything
measurable could bo computed on principles more en'oneons than
those which now prevail with regard to it.
"What course do we follow in reckoning time ? Our system implies
that there are innumerable conceptions dcKignatod " time." We
speak of solar, astronomical, nautical and civil time, of apparent
and mean time. Moreover, we assign to every individual point
around the surface of the earth, separate and distinct time iti this
variety. The usages inherited by us imply that there is an infinite
number of times. Is not all this inconsistent with reason and at
variance with the cardinal truth, that there is one time only ?
Time may be compared to a groat stream forever flowing onward.
To us, nature in its widest amplitude is a unity We have but one
earth, but one universe, whatever its myriad component pai-ts. That
there is also but one flow of time is consistent with the plain dictates
of oar understanding. That there can be more than one passage of
time is inconceivable.
From every consideration, it is evident that the day has arrived
when our method of time reckoning should be reformed. The con-
ditions of modem civilization demand that a con' prober pi ve system
should be established, embodying the principle that time is one
abstract oonoeption, aad that all dofinite portions of it should b«
based on, or be related to, one unit measure.
On those grounds I fool justified in rospoctiuliy asking the con-
sideration of tho Conference to the series of recommendations which
I venture to submit.
Tho matter is undoubtedly one in which every civilized nation
is interested. Indeed it may be said that more or less every
human being is concerned in it. The problem is of universal im-
portance, and its solution can alone be found in the general adoption
ot a system grounded on principles recognized as incontrov Mble.
Such principles are embodied in the suggested recommend. iOns.
They involve, as an essential requirement, the determination ot a
unit of measurement, and it is obvious that such a unit must have
its origin in the motion of the heavenly bodies. No motion is more
uniform than the motion of the earth on its axis. This diurnal
revolution admits of tho most delicate measurement, and in all res-
pects is the most available for a unit measure. It furnishes a division
of time, definite and precise, and one which, without difficulty, can
be made plain and manifest.
A revolution of the earth, denoted by the mean solar passage at
the Prime Meridian, will be recognizable by the whole world as a
periodof time common to all. general agreement this period
may bo regarded as the common unit by which time may be every-
where measured for every purpose in science, in commerce and in
The aim of the scheme set forth in the recommendativ,os is to estab-
lish a sound, rational system of notation, which oventnally may be-
come universal, and by which, everywhere, at the same time, the
same instant, may be observed. Bat, in the inauguration of a scheme
affecting so many individuals, it is desirable not to interfere with
prevailing customs more than necessary. Such influences as arise
from habit are powerful and cannot be ignored. The fact must be
recognized, that it will be difficult, immediately, to change the
usages to which the mass of men have been accustomed. In daily
life we are in the habit of eating, sleeping and following the routine
of our existence at certain periods of the day. We are familiar with
the numbora ol' tho hou*-: by which thoBO poriot's arc known, and,
(ioubtloHB, thoro will bo many who will soo littlo rooHon in any at-
tompt to alter thoir nomonolaturo ; oHpocially thoHo who tako little
noteofcauso and offoct, and who, with difficulty, understand the
nocoHsity of a remedy to Bome marked irregularity which, how-
ever generally objectionable, does not boar heavily upon them indi-
For tho present, therefoio, we munt adapt, as best we are able, tho
new ayt'tom to tho habits of men and women, as we find them. Pro-
vision for such adaptation is made in tho series of recommendations
(see II, 12, 13, 14, 15 and l(j) by which, while local reckoning
would bo based on tho principles laid down, tho hours and their num-
bers need not afprociably vary from those with which wo are fa-
miliar. Thus, time-reckoning in all ordinary afTairs in every
locality may be mado to harmonize with the general system.
Standard time throughout tho United States and Canada has boon
established in accord with this principle. Its adoption has proved tho
advantages which may bo attained gonoraliy by the same means.
On all sides those advantages have boon widely appreciated, and
no change so intimately bearing upon common life was over so
unanimously accepted. Certainly, it is an important stop towards
tho establishment of one system of Universal Time, or, as it is
designated in tho recommendations, Cosmic Time.
Tho alacrity and unanimity with which tho change has boon
accepted in North America, encourages tho belief that tho introduc-
tion of Cosmic Time in every day life is not unattainable. The
intelligence of tho people will not fail to discover, bofoto long, that
the adoption of correct principles of timo-rockoning will in no way
change or seriously affect tho habits they have boon accustomoa
to. It will certainly sweep away nothing valuable to them. Tho
sun will rise and sot to regulate our social affairs. All classes will
soon learn to understand tho hour of noon, whatever the number on
the dial, whether six, as in scriptural times, or twelve, or
eighteen or any other number People will get up and retire to bed,
begin and end work, take breakfast and dinner in the same periods
of the day as at present, and our social habits and customs will re-
main without a change, depending, as now, on the daily returning
phenomena of light and darkness.
The one alteration will be in the notation of the hours, so as to
secure uniformity in every longitude. It is to be expected that
this change will at first create some bewilderment, and that
it will be somewhat difficult to be understood by the masses.
The causes tor such a change to many will appear insufficient or
fanciful. In a few years, however, this feeling must pass away and
the advantages to be gained will become so manifest that I do not
doubt Cosmic or Universal Time will eventually com.nond itself to
general favour and bo adopted in all the affairs of life.
2.— THE RECKONING OF LONGITUDE.
1. That the surface of the globe being divided by twenty four equi-
distant meridians (^fifteen degrees apart) corresponding with the hours
of the Cosmic Bay, it is advisable that longitude be reckoned according
to these hour meridians.
2. That divisions of longitude less than an hour (fifteen degrees) be
reckoned in minutes and seconds,
3. That longitude be reckoned continuously from east to west, begin-
ning with the Prime Meridian as zero.
4. That longitude, generally, be denoted by the same terms as those
applied to Cosmic Time.
Longitude and time thus determined become so intimately related
that they may bo expressed by a common notation. Longitude is
simply the angle formed by two planes passing through the earth's
axis, while time is the period occupied by the earth in revolving
through that angle. If we a'lopt the system of measuring time by
the revolution of the earth from a recognized zero, viz., the Prime
Meridian, one of these planes, that through the Prime Meridian,
becomes fixed ; the other, that through the meridian of the place
being movable, the longitudinal angle is variable. ObviouHly the
variable angle ought to be measured from the fixed plane as -
and as the motion of the earth by which the equivalent time th"
angle is measured is continuous, the longitude ought to be rocko i
continuously '.n the one direction. The direction is doterminoc y
the notation of the hour meridians, viz., from east to west.
If longitude be so reckoned and denoted by the terms used in the
notation of Cosmic Time, the time of day everywhere throughout the
globe would invariably denote the precise longitude of Iho place
directly under the (mean) sun. Conversely, at the epoch of mean
Bolar passage at any place, the longitude being known, Cosmic Time
would be one and the same with the longitude of the place.
The advantages of such a system of reckoning and nomenclature,
as suggested 'n the recommendations, are self-evident.
3.-.THE ADOPTION OF A PRIME MEPtlDIAN.
1. That the meridian, twelve hours (IS0°), from the Observatory at
Greenwich, be adopted as the Prime Meridian to be universally used by
all peoples as the common zero in reckoning time and longitude.
So far as the principles on which Cosmic Time is proposed to be
established, it is unimportant at what point or in what hemisphere
the Prime Meridian may be projected.
But the establishment of a Prime Meridian, to be recognized as
a common zero of longitude and time, affects all civilized people,
and interests of great importance have to be consulted in its deter-
Among the papers laid on the table will bo found one on this
subject, to which I beg leave to refer.* This paper was read before
the Canadian Institute in 1S79, and it expresses the views I now
• Longitude and Time-Reckoning. — A few words on the selection of a Prime
Meridian, to be common to all nations, in connection with time-reckoning.
There are weighty reasons that Greenwich should be the zero of
longitude, but the Prime Meridian would be the separating line on
the surface of the globe, between two consecutive diurnal revolu-
tions, and consequently between two Oosmlc dates. It is obvious,
therefore, that the selection of Greenwich as Prime Meridian would
throw the commencement of one date and the close of another in
the middle of man's ordinary working hours. This would be ob-
jectionable, not in England only, but likewise throughout Europe.
The zero meridian should undoubtedly be removed from the
masses of population and, looking to the future, away from any con-
siderable extent of habitable land. We should keep in view the
desirability of all mankind reckoning by concurrent dates.
The International Geodetic Congress at Borne proposed that all
Governments should adopt Greenwich as the initial meridian, and
that longitude should be reckoned from this meridian, as a zero,
running in one direction from east to west. If longitude be con-
sidered apart, the wisdom of the recommendation must on all sides
But if the reckoning of time is to be considered. ? cannot ignore
the reasons advanced in favour of a Prime Meridic4u being estab-
lished in another part of the globe. The meridian exactly 180® from
Greenwich has been suggested. This proposal has the support of M.
Otto Struve, Director of -he Imperial Observatory at Pulkova, and
others. From the first I have held this view, and I can find no
argut lent which has such weight as to load me to set it aside. In
my humble judgment I consider that the Cosmic Day should com-
mence when the sun passes the anti-meridian of Green wieh . The
Astronomer Eoyal of England, Mr. Chribtie (lOlh December, 1883),
expresses his preference for this commencement of the day, and ho
remarks that in proposing it to the Committee he received the
support of M. Faye, on the part of France. * ' •
For these reasons the view which I respectfblly bog leave to offer
is that the Prime Meridian should be established twelve hours
(180°) trom the Greenwich meridian.
If this recommendation be sustained, Greenwich civil time will
become identical with Cosmic Time. - ......